It creeps up on you, biding its time, weaving its way into your mind and body, wrecking your resolve, staining your spirit. It plays a game of cat and mouse, its talons elusive, its manipulation brilliant; it captures you like a rat in a cage. I want to say that we can prepare our teens for treatment, but once those talons of addiction are embedded, nothing sane makes sense until the talons are removed and the healing begins. Addiction effects more than the user: it affects the family as a whole, nuclear or otherwise; it doesn’t give two shakes of a lamb’s tail who you are, where you come from, your financial status, race, color, creed, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
Addiction is a hopeless affair until you stand up to it and take the reigns of your life back. But that process takes work; it takes dedication; it takes a commitment to yourself, to your family, and to the world in which you live. It means looking at the ugly, dark, and terrifying thing in the recesses of your mind and body and naming it. It means recognizing the warrior within and ultimately dealing with whatever it is you’re running from. Something to note about drugs and alcohol: their numbing properties are merely a temporary Band-Aid for a much larger problem.
When a family comes to us, broken and scared, we understand the complex characteristics of what addiction does. It erodes trust, negatively impacts emotional safety, creates an environment fueled by fear and anger, and depletes the coping skills of the family as a whole. As a result, everyone is vulnerable. It is here where the work begins. Often, it is within that vulnerability where one finds the opening in the heart and mind that allows the healing to begin. We understand that the work of the family is layered: it requires honesty, and an ability to look at oneself; it requires willingness to separate your reactions to your child and to develop compassion; it requires a desire to forgive, and a desire to be forgiven. The treatment process allows for a new beginning, if you will, something many don’t ever have a chance to access. It’s an opportunity to recognize the warrior within—we all have one!
I can give you a million tools that may or may not prevent addiction from effecting your life, but the truth is, there’s no one way. For some, addiction is a something they are born with, for others, the spark is triggered by a traumatic event, and for others, it’s something unknown. As parents and support persons, it behooves us to let go of our laundry lists of the woulda-coulda-shouldas, and show up for our suffering teens. We can be supportive, we can get them help, we can love them in spite of their behavior, we can show them the meaning of unconditional love, and we can create safe, healthy boundaries for them and for ourselves. It’s not unlike an addict or alcoholic to push your every button to get a rise out of you, so boundaries are an imperative. Just because you’re showing support doesn’t mean you may continue to be a battering ram. You can love with boundaries: it’s not easy, but once you get the hang of it, your life will change for the better.
Try to remember to be kind to yourself as parents or kind to yourself as the teen in trouble. Allow the clinicians and supporting staff guide you back to wellness and stability. If there’s one thing that has stuck with me since I got sober it’s this: remain teachable. Once you think you know everything, you can’t learn anything new. Taking these early steps onto the recovery path is part of a letting-go process: we let go of what we think we know so we can learn a new way of living.
Allow yourself the opportunity to begin the healing process and embark on this path out of the darkness of addiction and be welcomed into the arms and support of the recovery community. With recovery comes grace and dignity, and those are qualities lacking in the addiction realm.